Constructive Dismissal

Last updated: 17 May 2021

If your employer does not dismiss you but feel you have no choice and are forced to resign because of something your employer has done, or is doing, which is in breach of your contract and serious enough that you can consider the contract at an end, you may be able to argue that this is a constructive dismissal.

Please see our article on the law when an employer changes your contract before resigning as there may be other options available to you.

Constructive Unfair Dismissal – 2 years service requirement

In most circumstances, you can only bring a claim at the Employment Tribunal for constructive dismissal if you have been employed by your employer for at least 2 years. There is an exception if you have been discriminated against, or if your employer is imposing a change to your contract because you have exercised a statutory right. In that case, you can bring a claim against your employer regardless of how long you have worked for them, because the dismissal would be ‘automatically unfair’. You should get legal advice before resigning, as these claims are very difficult to bring.

Fundamental Breach of Contract

If a significant change to your contract is being required or imposed, for example, if you were contracted to work from 9am to 5pm and your employer then told you had to work nights, or, you used to be a sales rep for the Midlands and now you are being asked to cover the North West region, and your contract does not allow for this, then if after you have considered all other options you have no other choice, the last resort may be that you feel you need to resign and claim that you had been forced to do so.

In other words your employer’s breach of contract left you with no choice except to resign. In legal terms this is called a constructive dismissal. Please see our page on Imposed Terms.

What do I need to prove?

For you to be able to say that the employer’s actions left you no choice but to resign, it is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably – you have to show that, objectively, your employer’s conduct has destroyed or seriously damaged your employment relationship and so amounted to a breach of contract.

You must also show that it was the employer’s actions which caused you to resign, or was one of the main causal factors (not some other reason such as the fact that you have been offered another job).

If a tribunal is satisfied that you had in effect been forced to resign by your employer’s actions, it will then go on to consider whether the dismissal was unfair.

You may also have been constructively dismissed if your employer does something so wrong that you can consider the contract over, for example if your employer hits you, or uses abusive language that is out of place at your work environment. Employment contracts have implied terms, such as a duty of trust and confidence and a duty not to discriminate, so there does not have to be an explicit term in the contract forbidding the behaviour.

Other Claims

Grounds for constructive dismissal may include discrimination, a breakdown of trust and confidence, failure to address grievances or excessive workloads, bullying and harrassment.   You may bring a constructive dismissal claim as a result of a one-off incident, or a repeated course of conduct by your employer that amounts to a breach to such an extent that you feel it is no longer possible to continue in your current employment.

Resigning to claim Constructive Dismissal is High Risk

If the contractual change is so serious that it is a fundamental breach and you feel you have no choice but to resign, we recommend you should seek legal advice before resigning.

We would not recommend resigning, but rather to continue to work under protest and seek to reach agreement whilst protecting your employment wherever possible. This is because in constructive dismissal, it is for you as the employee to prove that your employer’s breach of contract was so serious that you considered the contract was terminated by your employer. There is no guarantee the Tribunal will agree with you.

What to say when you have no choice but to end your employment

In constructive dismissal, if you decide to take this route, you must state that your employers breach of contract was so serious that you have no choice, you can no longer work for your employer and state that you have been forced to resign.

You should set out the background to what has happened and why this was such a fundamental breach for you.

To prove constructive dismissal, it is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably. You have to show:

  •  that your employer’s conduct was in fundamental breach of your employment contract; and
  • that it was your employer’s actions which caused you to resign – or was the main reason for your resignation (not some other reason, such as being offered another job).

Financial Warning

From a financial point of view, as soon as you resign to allege constructive dismissal your employment relationship and your contract is over immediately. You do not give notice and you would therefore no longer be entitled to pay or benefits under the contract. You instead would need to bring a claim against your employer to recover any monies you believe you are owed e.g. your notice pay and any holiday pay.

Timing is key: if you choose to resign because you really feel you have no choice it is important that you do not delay, or this may be taken as evidence that you have agreed to the breach of contract or it undermines your argument that it is so serious a breach. If you decide this is your only option, when you terminate your contract to claim constructive unfair dismissal, you must make it clear (in writing) that you had to resign and consider the contract to have been terminated immediately because of the employers actions (rather than resigning in accordance with the contract), otherwise you may not be able to claim constructive dismissal.

Where possible, you should always seek advice before resigning and it can be difficult to prove you have been constructively dismissed.  However, it is important that you do not delay too long, or this may mean that you have waived the breach of contract.  When you resign, make it clear (preferably in writing) that you consider the contract to have been terminated by the employer, otherwise you may not be able to claim constructive dismissal.

If you have been constructively dismissed, then you may be able to make a claim for wrongful dismissal (unpaid notice pay) and unfair dismissal.

This guidance applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

Advice contact form

Have you heard about your right to request flexible working? Watch our film to find out more.

DonateReceive updates button

The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.

We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.